Things They Don’t Teach You, by Laura Gaddis
The following are things I didn’t learn during my birthing class:
How you should maybe consider taking the birthing class well before your ninth month of pregnancy “just in case.”
How some a significant number of pregnancies (1 in 4) fail.
How to handle it when your pregnancy fails.
How to handle a new pregnancy after that failure.
How to handle a new pregnancy after a second failure.
How to handle a pregnancy after three failures.
How to handle the anxiety that comes with the fear of losing a fourth pregnancy.
How to have a miscarriage at home, on your toilet: a.) catch the fetus in a plastic “hat,” b.) put it in a sterile bottle, and c.) drive it to the doctor’s office in a paper lunch sack.
How not to cry at work when the nurse calls with the test results on that fetus and lets it slip that it would have been your son.
How to emotionally proceed with a pregnancy when it surpasses the longest one you’ve ever had (at twenty weeks).
How to throw a baby shower for your sister six months after you lost your own baby.
How to pretend you are happy to be pregnant when really it terrifies you.
How to calm a racing heart when the ultrasound room goes dark, or how to make your hands stop sweating as the cool gel covers your belly, or how to stop holding your breath until there is movement on the screen.
How to dam the tears so they don’t trail down your temple and onto the paper sheet beneath you.
How to love a child that you are afraid of.
How to stay positive when the doctor says your baby isn’t moving, her wrists are bent unnaturally, and it appears she has clubbed feet.
How to call or text your parents and give them weekly updates on this bad news.
How to tell your boss you have to miss work again because the results of the ultrasound showed another physical abnormality and you can’t stop crying on your couch.
How to accept the news when the test result for Trisomy 13 and 18 comes back normal, yet your child clearly has serious issues.
How to handle facing the imminent death of a child.
How to handle facing your own possible death.
How to remain happy for those friends and family members around you who are experiencing normal pregnancies when yours is full of troubles.
How to tell if you are going into early labor, and if so, how many medical interventions need to happen to keep your baby alive.
How to call or text your parents and tell them you are having the baby and, yes, it’s two months early.
How a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will be necessary for the child born two months premature, when her lungs cannot yet breathe, when her mouth cannot yet suck, when her eye cannot yet open—and also, what the hell is a NICU?
How a C-section incision, the eight-inch slit through your lower abdomen skin and uterine wall, the one that allowed your child to meet the world, allowed her to live, will also make it nearly impossible to sit for eight-plus hours a day next to your baby’s incubator.
How to find the strength to fight through the slicing belly pain to come to the NICU everyday anyway and how pushing a pillow to your stomach to support your stitched suture will provide modest comfort.
How the blood loss from the urgent C-section will lead to an iron deficiency which will lead to iron pills which will lead to the worst constipation of your life (so much so it will cause you to miss a day of going to your baby in the NICU) which will also lead to an embarrassingly clogged toilet that your husband will take on like the beast that it will be.
How the scariest thing about an urgent C-section isn’t the four-inch long needle that goes into your back, nor how they shave your pubic area to get at the skin, nor feeling half your body go completely numb, nor the large hole they create in your stomach and internal organs, but rather it’s the fear that your child will die before she is in your arms and they had forgotten to call your husband back in the operating room to hold your hand.
How when your premature child first hits the cold air and lets out the smallest of cries, your heart will burst with the confusing mix of fear and joy.
How when your daughter’s tiny fingers wrap around your husband’s index finger, you know everything will be okay.
How successful pregnancies do happen after recurrent pregnancy loss.
How the struggle to find your place in life—one that includes a daughter who died, two early miscarriages, and another daughter who fights disabilities—will roll into your identity as a human being and how you won’t know yourself anymore without it.
How empathy and compassion for everything that lives will heighten and make you cry at YouTube videos that include children, dogs, kittens, and sloths that almost die while crossing the street.
How grief never really goes away, and will likely appear at the most inopportune of moments, like when a friend announces she’s pregnant.
How you have a responsibility to share with your surviving daughter the sibling(s) she has or how to explain that the heart-shaped metal “toy” on your dresser is actually an urn and carries her sister.
How your appreciation for having everything in your life will amplify after you see firsthand how easily things can be taken away.
How bad things can be turned into good things.
How there are many others who share this journey privately but would never share publicly (even if they long to).
How by sharing your own story through a blog, an essay, a novel, a parenting website article, or message board, you can help others grieve.
How you can grieve.
How you can live.
How you can thrive.
Laura Gaddis is currently an MFA candidate studying creative nonfiction at Miami University (in Ohio). She has been published in Thin Air Magazine, The Avalon Literary Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scary Mommy, Tiny Buddha, and The Mighty. She has forthcoming essays in The Kitchen Sink and Ligeia. She resides in Oxford, OH with her husband, daughter, and pug Rocky.